A web site visitor read my The Leader’s Digest excerpt “A Tale of Two Managers: Command versus Commitment” (contrasting Joel and Denise’s management/leadership approaches) and sent me this e-mail. My response follows.
“For two years I have been managing a team of thirteen GenX contract staff working in a client’s site. We have twenty percent permanent staff and eighty percent contract staff.
I have been trying to reduce the gap between contract and permanent staff. However GenX don’t seem to be as loyal or patient to stay on after about 18 months on the job. They will often leave for just a small amount of money elsewhere. I believe GenX are money spenders and don’t really care about long-term commitment.
Being a Denise manager (contrary to Joel), I can convince them to pursue our team’s goals. But after a year I lose my best performers who are chasing after awards, tokens, and small salary increases. What helps GenX staff look beyond the immediate dollars and create a path to excel within this team?
What factors make my approaches fail? My leadership?”
Your mixture of permanent and contract staff and the attitude of the young people you describe strongly underline the need for leadership. The story of Denise and Joel you reference from The Leader’s Digest highlights a leadership style that builds “volunteerism.” Another term that’s gaining popularity for the same idea is building “a magnet organization/team.”
Whatever it’s called, this leadership approach nurtures deep feelings of pride and commitment to the organization, team or cause. Energy levels are high, team work is strong, and most people identify strongly with the group and its purpose.
It’s hard to diagnose your situation without a deeper assessment. But it looks like your last question on whether it’s about your leadership is the right one. Studies of Gen Xers show they deeply want to be part of an organization they can feel proud of and want their abilities used and stretched as much as possible. David Sirota’s extensive survey database (established in 1972) shows that Gen Xers are no different than everyone else when it comes to “…the basic goals at work – the need to be treated fairly, the desire to have a sense of achievement and pride in your work, and the desire to have productive relations with your co-workers.”
The Gallup Organization and other researchers have shown that 70% of the reason people leave an organization is because of their immediate manager. This could well mean you need a deep and courageous look in your leadership mirror. I’d suggest you do a 360 survey to get safe feedback from people who report to you, your peers, and your manager around your leadership style. They are numerous ones available based on emotional intelligence and many other leadership models.
You’re on the right track in looking at your own leadership. You’re clearly in a situation where the people you lead can easily vote with their feet. The high turnover you’re experiencing points strongly to the possibility that they are not feeling compelled to stay. That is a leadership issue.